Local Politics

Court system cuts could hurt help for crime victims

Posted May 25, 2011 4:51 p.m. EDT
Updated June 3, 2011 6:12 p.m. EDT

— Funds for the state court system would be slashed by nearly three-quarters in the state Senate's proposed budget, ending the jobs of advocates who help crime victims navigate the legal system.

The budget proposal includes $5.2 million that district attorney's offices use to fund 151 victim's witness legal assistants, or a quarter of those positions statewide. These workers line up witnesses for court and guide victims through the legal process.

"It will have a dramatic impact on what we do day to day," Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said Wednesday.

Renee Jones, of Raleigh, said she felt daunted by going to court as the victim of a violent crime in 2009.

"I was stabbed in the head 10 times, burnt with hot cooking oil and stabbed with a scalpel," she said.

Jones said she depended on the support and guidance of a victim's advocate.

"She was there for me, and I don't know what I would have done mentally, emotionally or spiritually without her," Jones said.

Megan Lively said she supports the victims of sex crimes as a witness legal assistant with the Wake County District Attorney's Office.

"I actually help people in my job," Lively said. "There's a lot of hand holding. Traumatic events happen to the people that I deal with."

Willoughby said his office would lose five staff members if the cuts go through.

"If you reduce the workforce substantially, there will be things we do now that we can't do. There will probably be cases that we can't prosecute," he said.

Willoughby went to the General Assembly Wednesday to lobby to keep the funds in the budget.

"Every DA will tell you that they need these people on the front lines. They depend on them," state Sen. Ed Jones, D-Halifax County, said.

Funds for the North Carolina Victim's Assistance Network are also being cut. The director of the 25-year-old nonprofit said they will be bankrupt within 18 months if the cuts stand.

Supporters of the Senate budget plan said while the cuts painful, they must be made to close a projected $2.4 billion shortfall.